Local authorities in England are reported to be facing a funding shortfall of more than half a billion pounds for educating children with special needs.
Concerns have been raised that this is likely to result in spending cuts and service reviews, meaning the most vulnerable children and families in society will be placed at further disadvantage.
In a recent article in the Guardian* it is reported that:
Surrey council confirmed it overspent its high needs budget by £35m in 2020-21, and is forecasting a further overspend of £24m in 2021-22. Kent forecast an overspend of £35.8m in 2020-21, and 14 other councils forecast overspends of £10m to £18m.
Cambridgeshire has a forecast deficit of £13.7m in 2020-21. It is planning to reduce top-up funding for Send children in mainstream schools, as well as launching a variety of reviews covering individual support packages. A council spokesperson said: “In addition to the continuing rise in the number of education, health and care plans (EHCPs) being allocated to those in need, we are seeing an increase in the complexity of need among our children and young people. Our funding allocation is not sufficient to adequately match the increase in demand.”
Cheshire East is planning to encourage older students with EHCPs to take up “supported internships”, which normally last a year and include unpaid work placements of at least six months, as an explicit way of reducing the council’s support costs and shortening the time for which it has to fund EHCPs.
During the covid pandemic, duties on local authorities were amended removing absolute requirements to meet the needs of children with SEN and use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to meet their duty under the Children and Families Act 2014 during the unprecedented times.
These amendments have now been withdrawn resulting in the statutory duties for children and young people with SEND returning to the pre covid requirements. For mainstream settings, this means using their best endeavours to secure that the special educational provision called for by the pupil’s or student’s special educational needs is made.
Regrettably, for those children with an EHCP or with a special educational need, an Ofsted report has recently identified that there are significant problems with required provision being met**.
The local authority cuts are therefore only likely to worsen the position.
A further concern is that agreed provision may be reviewed and reductions or amendments made.
This would come at a time when it has been heavily reported that the period of school closures during lockdown impacted all children. The Office for National Statistics found that during the first national lockdown, 43% of parents whose children were not in school agreed it was negatively affecting their children’s well-being
Ofsted have highlighted their concerns about SEND families during this time with access to additional support being ‘sharply reduced’. Any suggestion that already under resourced provisions will continue to suffer as a result of a lack of funding from the government raises severe concerns about the detrimental effect on children in this already vulnerable group and their families.
If you require advice and assistance with any aspect of EHCP or SEND provision, our education law team are able to assist with this areas of law, including tribunal and judicial review of decisions made by the authorities.